Thursday, February 27, 2014
I have to admit to not keeping up with research on class size in recent years. A decade ago or so, I was under the impression that social science had reached a consensus that teacher quality mattered more than class size and that, with a high quality teacher, class size did not matter much at all. The only caveat, I thought, was that at-risk students did see some benefit from class-size reduction, even if others did not. Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters' Executive Director, offers a strong retort. Below is a summary of her rebuttal of the 7 myths about class size reduction.
1. Myth: Class size is an unproven or ineffective reform.
She points to the conclusion of the Institute of Education Sciences at the United States Department of Education that
class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement through rigorous, randomized experiments -- the "gold standard" of research. (The other three reforms are one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades first through third; life-skills training for junior high students, and instruction for early readers in phonics -- and not one of the policies that the corporate reformers are pushing. )
2. Myth: There is a threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits.
The most comprehensive study of classroom size was in Tennessee. A recent reanalysis of the data in that study found that
for the control group of students who were in the "larger" classes and found that within this range, the smaller the class, the better the outcome.
Indeed, esteemed researchers such as Peter Blatchford have found that there is no particular threshold that must be reached before students receive benefits from smaller classes, and any reduction in class size increases the probability that they will be on-task and positively engaged in learning.
3. Myth: Large scale programs such as class size reduction in California didn't work.
She indicates that control groups in California were hard to find because the entire state reduced class size, but every controlled study of California did find significant gains for students in smaller classes.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The district court has issued a new opinion in Lewis v. Ascension Parish Sch. Bd., 2014 WL 556677 (M.D. La. 2014), a case involving allegations that the district discriminated in the rezoning of its schools. Like Spurlock v. Fox, 716 F.3d 383 (6th Cir.2013) and Doe v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 665 F.3d 524 (3d Cir.2011), the court in Lewis had to navigate the complex post-Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle world, in which racial intent, racial classifications, and racial considerations all of different doctrinal relevance and potentially conflicted precedents.
The district court in Lewis had previously issued a summary decision granting the school district's motion for summary judgement, which was summarily overturned by the Fifth Circuit and remanded. The Fifth Circuit had intimated that the Third Circuit's holding in Lower Merion--that Justice Kennedy's opinion in Parents Involved was controlling and that assignment plans are subject to rational basis so long as they do not rely on individual racial classifications--was incorrect. The Fifth Circuit, however, indicated it need not reach those doctrinal question because certain factual issues needed to be addressed first.
In its new decision on remand, the district court offers what may be the most cogent post-Parents Involved analysis to date. Plaintiff's basic claim is that the district's new assignment plan segregates African Americans and provides them with unequal educational opportunities. The district court analyzes his claim based on three distinct doctrines. First, it asks whether a racial classification was employed in the assignment plan. If so, Parents Involved's strict scrutiny applies. Here, the court indicates there is no evidence of a racial classification. Awareness or consideration of race, alone, are insufficient to trigger strict scrutiny. Thus, the rational basis approach of Lower Merion would apply. On the one hand, this holding is another validation of districts' ability to voluntarily desegregate. On the other hand, the plaintiffs in Lewis were alleging segregation and, thus, this court makes clear that those claims still must meet the higher burden of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro.
Second, the court analyzes the disparate impact of the plan and the extent to which it potentially gives rise to a claim of intentional discrimination per Arlington Heights. It finds that the assignment plan does.
Third, the court analyzes the school district's consideration of racial demographics, etc., in drawing the assignment zones. The court finds that these considerations, along with the impacts, create a triable issue of fact as to whether intent existed. The Court elaborated:
Here, the School Board also does not contest that the majority of the non-white students in the District are in the East Ascension High School feeder zone and that the majority of the white students in the District are in the Dutchtown High School and St. Amant High School feeder zones. With regard to the factors considered by the School Board when it adopted Option 2f, the School Board does not contest that its members considered race and socioeconomic status when they developed, evaluated, and adopted Option 2f. Unlike the students in Lower Merion, non-white and white students in the District have each been affected by Option 2f (i.e. assigned to different schools). Indeed, the School Board does not contest this fact. Further, the School Board does not contest that Option 2f assigns all students to schools based on their geographic location.
Unlike the court in Lower Merion, this Court is unable to consider all of the evidence presented until after a full trial on the merits. See Lower Merion, 665 F.3d at 542. However, given the evidence presented here, context of this matter, and factors considered by the School Board when it adopted Option 2f, the Court concludes that Varando and Child B are, in fact, similarly situated to white students in the Dutchtown High School and St. Amant High School feeder zones. Accordingly, the School Board's request that the Court dismiss Lewis' remaining Equal Protection claim on this basis is DENIED.
In short, the district court agreed with Lower Merion (and rejected plaintiffs argument for applying strict scrutiny), but found there are sufficient facts on which discriminatory purpose could be inferred (which would trigger strict scrutiny) and set the case for trial.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
The New Jersey Department of Education agreed to settle a disability rights lawsuit last week involving claims that special education students were assigned to educational settings that were not the least restrictive environments required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504. The plaintiffs, a collection of statewide advocacy agencies acting on behalf of children with disabilities, sued the NJDOE in 2007, charging that the state placed special education students in restrictive settings at a rate that was twice as high as twenty-six other states. Data from NJDOE also showed that while 3.8% of the nation’s students receiving special education services were in New Jersey, the state had 9% of students nationally in restrictive placements. NJDOE agreed in the settlement to conduct a least restrictive needs assessment for about 75 school districts and to train, monitor, and support those districts for compliance with special education laws. View the settlement in Disability Rights v. NJ Dept. of Ed., No. 3:07-cv-02978 (D. N.J.) here.
R. George Wright's article, Post-Tinker, is now available at 10 Stan. J. Civ. Rts. & Civ. Liberties 1 (January 2014). The article argues that
the rise of computer communication by means of portable technologies [does not] necessarily condemn Tinker to irrelevance. It has recently been argued, for example, that "Tinker remains functional, and if properly applied to students' online expression, it can vindicate students' free expression interests while still allowing schools to properly regulate day-to-day student discipline and the educational process." And when we add in the options of modifying Tinker, as by abandoning either the first "disruption" prong or else the second "rights of others" prong, contemporary support for some version of Tinker is even broader.
At this point, however, it is fair, and indeed important, to ask about the likely consequences of radically abandoning Tinker. What might it mean, at this historical point, to abandon Tinker along with its qualifying and limiting cases? The discussion below pursues this question and eventually endorses just such a radical abandonment of Tinker. This is not an anti-student speech conclusion. It is instead a recognition of the importance of allowing public schools, if they so choose and within other constitutional and statutory bounds, to focus more on educational outcomes, equality, or other dimensions of the vital basic mission of contemporary public schools.
Dan Losen, UCLA Civil Rights Project, is guest editing the upcoming peer reviewed issue of the Journal of Applied Research on Children. The journal is currently seeking submissions. Below is the call for papers.
Call For Papers
Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk
Volume 5, Issue 2
Legal Safety Nets: The Law as a Change Agent for Children
Editors-in-Chief: Angelo Giardino (Texas Children's Hospital)
Robert Sanborn (CHILDREN AT RISK)
Guest Editor: Daniel Losen, J.D., M. Ed (Director, Center for Civil Rights Remedies,
The Civil Rights Project, University of California, Los Angeles)
Published by the Texas Medical Center Library and edited by the CHILDREN AT RISK
Institute, the Journal of Applied Research on Children (JARC) serves to inform policy affecting
children by providing applicable research to the public, child advocates, and policymakers on
timely children’s issues. Providing practical case studies and research on the transformative
potential of policy change, JARC issues provide a powerful link between data and policy
solutions to strengthen the arguments of child advocates across the country.
For the ninth issue, Legal Safety Nets: The Law as a Change Agent for Children, the
CHILDREN AT RISK Institute invites research on the transformational power of laws and
the legal system for our children. How does the law both promote child well-being and, at
other times, actively work against the best interests of children? The CHILDREN AT RISK
Institute is seeking articles that include data-oriented evidence on the issues within our legal
system and articles with strong policy implications. Possible issue areas include but are not
The Journal of Applied Research on Children is available online in an open-access format
(jarc.childrenatrisk.org) and is indexed in CINAHL and SocINDEX, making it available to
child advocates, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers across America. Since its
launch, journal articles have been downloaded over 67,000 times. The submission and
peer review process are completed entirely online. Authors are encouraged to take
advantage of the journal’s online format by including videos, interactive charts, or links to
To view past issues of the journal or to submit a piece, please visit jarc.childrenatrisk.org.
The final submission deadline for papers is June 1, 2014. Prospective authors are
encouraged to contact Marissa Madsen, Managing Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, February 24, 2014
The University of South Carolina School of Law is seeking a visiting professor to teach Constitutional Law in Spring 2015. The ideal candidate will have strong academic credentials, and an excellent record in teaching and scholarship.
Applicants should submit a letter of interest and a curriculum vitae. Please state in your cover letter what courses you would be willing to teach. Applications should be submitted electronically to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Danielle Holley-Walker (email@example.com). The initial screening of applications will begin March 10, 2014. Positions will remain open until filled.
The University of South Carolina is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer. Applications from underrepresented minority groups and women are encouraged.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has issued a set of decisions in companion cases dealing with charter schools' access to locally raised funds. In Charter Day School, Inc. v. New Hanover County Bd. of Educ., 2014 WL 619562 (2014), and Northeast Raleigh Charter Academy, Inc. v. Wake County Bd. of Educ., 2014 WL 640976 (2014), charters schools alleged that they were underfunded for the past several years, relying on a North Carolina statute that provides, “[i]f a student attends a charter school, the local school administrative unit in which the child resides shall transfer to the charter school an amount equal to the per pupil local current expense appropriation to the local school administrative unit for the fiscal year.” N.C. Gen.Stat. § 115C–238.29H(b) (2007). The Court of Appeals in both cases held that the charter school was entitled to a pro rata share of the local current expense fund of the school district in which they are located. The local expense fund is, in effect, the district's rainy day fund. Funds not spent in one year are saved there for a later date.
This holding, while a reasonable interpretation of the statute, may create some awkward deliberations for school districts. Regardless of whether they save or do not save money, charter schools' allotment is the same. If the district decides to save, charter schools would get their money now, whereas traditional public schools would be deferring their funds. Theoretically, it all evens out in the end, but the notion that a charter school down the street is getting funds for the current school year that traditional public school is not will not be received well by many.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Magnet schools have been stagnate for some time. For instance, as Erica Frankenberg and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley detail in Choosing Diversity: School Choice and Racial Integration in the Age of Obama, 6 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 219, 244 (2010), federal funding for magnet schools has been flat since the late 1980s. At the same time, charter school funding has been exponentially increasing.
Many districts perceive charters as non-public schools or anti-public schools. Motoko Rich's story in the New York Times indicates that some school districts are now re-embracing magnet schools as a way to fight back or push back against the pressures of charter schools. She points to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington as examples, but focuses on Miami, where the number of students attending magnet schools has increased 35 percent in the last four years.
For those who follow the segregation debate, this pushback is more important than just charters versus magnets or public schools. Various reports charge charter school with exacerbating school segregation (although I have argued their point may be exagerated). In the past, the primary purpose of magnet schools, however, has been to increase integration. In fact, federal funding for magnet schools has been explicitly conditioned on their ability to help districts meet mandatory desegregation obligations or voluntarily desegregate.
Beyond the differing roles that they play in segregation and their differing public school status (perceived or real), magnets and charters share a tremendous amount in common. This commonality, however, begs the question of why the federal government and reformers have placed so much support behind charters and so little behind magnets in recent years. Is it that they object to integrated or public schools? My article Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, 48 Wake Forest L. Rev. 445 (2013), explores theses issues further. It refrains from labeling charters, magnets, and vouchers as inherently "good" or "bad" schools and instead asks whether they have been implemented in ways that can promote or have promoted the overall public good, which I posit is the primary question of public education.
For the New York Times story on magnets, see here.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
The Guilford County Board of Education recently voted to challenge a new North Carolina law requiring the board to choose teachers who will get new contracts in exchange for tenure. The North Carolina law requires school district leaders to choose 25% of its teachers and offer them new four-year contracts in exchange for tenure and $500 compounding salary increases over four years. Jill Wilson, the attorney for the Guilford County school board members told the Greensboro News-Record that the law is unconstitutional because “state law protects teachers from having their status changed or salary reduced without due process.” A board member objected to the law because it “represents yet another thinly veiled attack on public education and educators.” The board says that it will refuse to recommend which of the county’s teachers should be offered contracts and instead will sue to challenge the law. Although twenty states have passed laws restricting teacher tenure, local boards suing to opt out of such laws is uncommon.
Last year, Kimberly Robinson organized a conference on the 40th anniversary of San Antonio v. Rodriguez. A collected works book arising out of that conference will be published soon with Yale University Press. A few law review articles from the conference were also recently published with the Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest. Links to those articles are here. Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is included among those authors. He wrote The Implications of San Antonio Independent Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 17 Rich. J.L. & Pub. Int. 515 (2014). The article offers a lot of then versus now comparisons, but of particular note, given his criminal justice expertise, is a section on school funding versus prison funding. He writes:
Despite the steps that have been taken to reduce the funding inequalities between poor and wealth school districts, there has yet to be a diminution in one other important funding disparity: that between prison spending and education spending. State criminal corrections spending has outpaced growth in spending on education, transportation, and public assistance, and, after adjusting for inflation, state spending on criminal correction has tripled over the past three decades and has become the fasting-growing budgetary expense after Medicaid. Indeed, according to a review of data from the Department of Justice and the National Education Association, many states spend three to four times more per capita on incarceration than on education. California, the most populous state in the union, spends about $47,000 per inmate while spending approximately $9,000 per student. New York spends roughly $56,000 per prisoner and about $16,000 for its students, while Georgia and Michigan each spend about a third of the amount on their public school students as they do on their prison populations.
The same dichotomy between criminal corrections spending and public school spending can be found between criminal corrections spending and higher education spending. Research has shown that, adjusting for inflation, over the twenty-year period from 1987 to 2007 states' corrections spending grew more than the six times more than spending on higher education. Regionally, the differences between higher education and prison spending were more pronounced. During the same time period, inflation-adjusted prison spending in the Northeast rose sixty-one percent while higher education spending in the region dropped 5.5 percent. In the West, the amount of money allotted to prisons grew 205 percent while money spent on postsecondary education only grew twenty-eight percent. Analysis on the spending disparity between prison and higher education at the state reveals an even more staggering divide. In 2011, California's postsecondary education received thirteen percent less inflation-adjusted dollars than in 1980 while criminal corrections received a 436 percent expansion in funding during the same period.
In all, the growth in state spending on prisons and criminal corrections has outpaced the growth in education spending. However, unlike the push for funding parity between rich school districts and poor school districts that occurred during the aftermath of Rodriguez, there does not seem to be a concerted, serious push to reverse the trend of the growth in prison spending outpacing the growth in education spending. The policy discussion surrounding the growth in funding of incarceration and education presents a zero-sum proposition, because, unlike the federal government, most states have to balance their budgets. As a result, a dollar spent in one area is a dollar that can no longer be spent in another. The effects of this decision could have significant consequences for the future of the children from poor areas whom Rodriguez litigation aimed to benefit and who have benefitted from the education funding cases post-Rodriguez litigation. Children from low-income areas are at a distinct disadvantage when increases in prison spending result in slower growth or a reduction in education spending. Research has shown that significant concentrations of people going to prison came from poor neighborhoods of color, and in these neighborhoods millions of dollars are being spent to incarcerate its residents. As a result, money spent on incarceration is often the predominant public investment in those communities while education opportunities are dwindling with repeated budget cuts. According to researchers, completing school is a critical protective factor for adolescents who come from troubled neighborhoods. Yet, money is diverted from this resource to incarceration, preventing low-income youth in many areas of the country from having quality access to an effective tool for betterment.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
The state of Washington is now in danger of losing its No Child Left Behind Waiver. The Department of Education has granted waivers on a one year basis, requiring that states reapply in subsequent years to show progress on the conditions in their previous year's waiver. For Washington, that meant using statewide tests in evaluating teacher's and principal's effectiveness. The Washington state senate just voted down a bill that would have implemented that requirement. The no vote came from the Democrats in the Senate and seven Republicans. Democrats charged that the evaluation metrics are just a means to bash teachers. As a result of the state's legislative timing rules, there appears to be no obvious way to come up with an alternative solution before the Department of Education makes its decision on the waiver.
The Olympian reports that
Losing the waiver would mean school districts throughout the state would have to redirect an estimated $38 to $44 million in federal education funding toward private tutoring efforts, rather than spending the money on district programs for poor and disadvantaged students.
It also would mean nearly every school in the state would be labeled as failing, and school administrators would have to send letters home to parents notifying them of their schools' failing status.
It is possible that the Deparment of Education might still extend the waiver based on compliance in other respects, but to do so would also send a negative message to other states regarding their need to comply.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
When some years ago, the State of Virginia voted to change its state song, Carry Me Back to Old Virginny, after decades of controversy about the song's romanticized view of slavery (the song, incidently, was written by black composer James Allen Bland in 1878), observers joked that it takes three Virginians to change a light bulb - "one to screw in the new bulb and two others to wax nostalgic about the old bulb and how nice it was." Recent names changes to schools across the deep south remind me of Virginia's vacillation over its (now retired) state song. There are dozens of schools throughout the south named for Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Nathan Forrest, and other fighters for the Confederacy. Attempts to change those names are being met with some antagonism, despite the fact that many of the objectors do not even send their children to the affected public schools.
Some are taking slow steps to change, such as Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville, FL. Last December, the Duval County School Board in Jacksonville, FL voted unanimously to rename Nathan B. Forrest High School, saying that it voted for the change because of the polarizing connection with the nation's racial history. Forrest's name is particularly divisive as the Confederate Civil War general was also a slave trader and later a founder and first grand dragon of the Imperial Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The school board cited the makeup of the school as a contributing factor to change the name, as the high school's racial makeup is 22.9% White non-Hispanic, 61.6% Black non-Hispanic, 8.7% Hispanic, 2.6% Asian, 3.9% Multi Racial. 0.3% Native American.
Erika Wilson's new article, Towards a Theory of Equitable Federated Regionalism in Public Education, is forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review. The article is aimed at addressing the longstanding problem of inequity and segregation across school district lines, which were sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley and San Antonio v. Rodriguez. Wilson says the problems are further exacerbated by the "a strong ideological preference for localism" in state education laws that "do not require or even encourage collaboration between school districts in order to address disparities between neighboring school districts." Thus, she calls for a reconsideration of "the wholesale commitment to localism in public education" and argues that, "in some instances, the dissemination of public education should be made on a regional basis rather than a local basis. [Her article] examines how enacting regionalism — a theoretical framework, which advocates for the installment of regional governance structures — might occur in public education. Borrowing from two specific theories of regionalism, equitable regionalism and federated regionalism, [her article] proposes a framework entitled 'Equitable Federated Regionalism' for disseminating public education on a regional basis."
This new article builds on her prior work, Leveling Localism and Racial Inequality in Education Through the No Child Left Behind Act Public Choice Provision, 44 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 625 (2011). Both works are insightful attempts to push us beyond old ways of thinking. They are fit nicely with both positive and negative developments in a few localities. Consider Omaha, Nebraska's cooperative school district zones, which suggests Wilson's proposals are more than feasible. Or consider the current school transfer provision in Missouri that is wreaking havoc on both accredited and unaccredited school districts. Wilson's proposals might offer a far more orderly means of dealing with the problems there. The same is true of the problems that will follow the rise of parent triggers, school closures, and the like in other localities.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Assessment Across The Curriculum
The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning has announced its one-day conference for law teachers who are interested in learning about effective techniques for assessing student learning. “Assessment Across the Curriculum” will take place on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Arkansas. By the end of the conference, participants will have concrete ideas and assessment practices to take back to their students, colleagues, and institutions.
Conference Content: Sessions will address topics such as
- Formative Assessment in Large Classes
- Classroom Assessment Techniques
- Using Rubrics for Formative and Summative Assessment
- Assessing the Ineffable: Professionalism, Judgment, and Teamwork
- Assessment Techniques for Statutory or Transactional Courses
The Missouri statute allowing students to transfer out of unaccredited school districts is continuing to place huge pressures on the districts and the state. (For more background on the statute, see my earlier posts here and here). The Normandy School District has now suffered enough losses that it is facing "financial collapse." If it does, the state will have to reassign the 3,000 students currently enrolled in the district. There are another 62,000 students in the state attending other unaccredited school districts. Normandy could be just the first of many crises the state and surrounding districts will have to manage.
Recognizing this, the state board of education is debating its options. One proposed option, suggested by a consultant, is to hand control of these unaccredited to districts to nonprofit entities, which would presumably be something akin to a charter school operator. Other options include creating a state-run school district comprised of the "failing districts," allowing the local school boards to continue operating their "failing districts," or pushing the state to amend the transfer statute. The nonprofit and state-run options have already drawn strong objections from some board members. I would suspect that the privitization lobby, however, will soon enough pressure lawmakers in the opposite direction. What makes Missouri's situation so interesting and important is that the concept of this transfer provision across district lines offers some good possibilities, most importantly integration and poverty deconcentration. But when the law operates too harshly, its primary effect is to destabilize the entire education system of the state, which is not good for anyone. That seems to be the case now. Hopefully, the legislature or board can come up with a reasonable response to these self-inflicted wound.
For more local reporting on the story, see here.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Charter schools were envisioned as small-scale laboratories to test innovative educational programs and to reach struggling students who could thrive with more individualized attention. Minnesota is now deciding how to deal with those charter programs that are chronically underperforming. The state legislature seems to be doing the sensible thing this week by considering legislation to require an evaluation process for the state’s lowest-performing charter schools. The proposed evaluation system could prevent charter operators with underperforming schools from opening new schools. The current proposal may make it easier to shut down 17 of the state's chronically underperforming charters. (Charters that that have a high number English language learners or special education students would be exempt.) Minnesota Public News Radio reports that the head of a 2013 study by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity says that that 25-30% of the state’s 150 charter schools are “just really terrible…considerably worse than the public schools.”
In Indiana, Establishment Clause questions are being renewed this week about private schools that receive public funds doing what public schools cannot: teaching Christian-based intelligent design doctrine and creationism with taxpayer-funded vouchers. Indiana's South Bend Tribune reports that the state's Choice Scholarship Program funds nearly 20,000 students to attend private schools with about $81 million of public voucher funds. Some of those private schools expressly state that they do not teach evolution as part of their curriculum, substituting faith-based texts for reading, history, and science classes. A recent article in Slate shows the growing amount of tax-credit scholarship and voucher programs going to schools that teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program has not been challenged under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, although the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last year that the Choice Program did not violate the state constitutional probihibition against funding religious institutions because the direct beneficiaries of the program were schoolchildren rather than the schools selected, and the state clause did not exclude religious teaching from public schools. Meredith v. Pence, 984 N.E.2d 1213 (Ind. 2013). Meredith's lawsuit challenged the state's voucher system generally (Indiana now has one of the most expansive voucher systems in the country), but Establishment Clause challenges could be coming.
The Education Law Association is hosting its annual conference on November 11-15, 2014, in San Diego California. The topic of the conference is "The Resegregation of Education in America," in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. I know the Association is interested in more participation from law faculty and encourages them to submit panel proposals. The call for panel proposals will remain open until March 1, 2014. The proposal process is straightforward: a short biographical sketch for each presenter, a title and brief summary of the presentation (not to exceed 25 words), and a 500-750 word description of the proposed session.
More details on the conference and proposals are available here.
Monday, February 10, 2014
A new report by the Foundation for Educational Choice, Interstate Survey: What Do Voters Say About K-12 Education in Six States?, found that heavy majorities in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York favor expanding school choice through charters, vouchers and tax-credits. Respondents did not, however, favor all public school alternatives. They opposed virtual schools by even larger majorities. The Foundation uses these results to support its agenda, but these results don't impress me that much. Instead, the overall survey results suggest knee-jerk reactions, or guesses, rather than thoughtful or personally-held positions on the part of many respondents.
For instance, the survey also assessed respondents' basic knowledge of their state's funding levels, graduation rates, and achievement scores. On these objective measures, a large percentage, and sometimes a majority, were way off. Of course, not knowing the facts is not a bar to voting and, thus, policy advocates and politicians probably don't care. But to me, these responses indicate there was a fair amount of guessing going on. Moreover, the guessing may have been influenced by what the guessers thought the questioners or public preferred on the issues of vouchers, charters, and tax-credits. Consider that strong majorities indicated that they favored expanding charters, but only 8 to 14 percent of respondents indicated they would select a charter for their own child.
The other factor is that most respondents' perception of public schools is overly-deflated. A large percent perceiving public schools to be in worse shape than they are, which helps explain why a majority prefers alternatives in various forms. Regardless, striking to me was the percentage, who, if given the chance, would select a private school. I find this striking because, as discussed in an earlier post, public schools on the whole outperform private schools.
*chart courtesy of Foundation for Educational Choice
Yet, there is serious danger in assuming that the majority of parents who prefer school choice and private schools do so for quality reasons. The survey does an abysmal job of sorting this out. The survey asked what the most important factor in selecting a school was and the answers were: standards/curriculum, structure/discipline, test scores, school/classroom size, extracurriculars, religious or philosophical missions, and location. They did not ask, or respondents did not admit, the relevance of demographics in selecting schools, ie, the school's racial and socioeconomic statistics. Three of these states were formerly segregated by law and another two of the northern states have extremely high levels of de facto segregation, past and present. I would not necessarily expect respondents to admit these factors (although I have seen other studies where they did), but leaving these factors entirely out of a survey about school choice hides a key issue.
Friday, February 7, 2014
I am a little behind the times on this one, but a group of nine students, represented by Ted Olsen, are challenging the constitutionality of California statutes that grant teachers permanent employment status after 18 months of service, that create several procedural hurdles to dismissing ineffective teachers, and that elevate seniority above teaching effectiveness in layoff decisions. Their theory is that, per school finance precedent, education is a fundamental right in California and students are guaranteed equal educational opportunity, but statutes that keep ineffective teachers in place violates that right by subjecting students to subpar educational opportunity.
Given the malleability of the concepts of education as a fundamental right or a constitutional right to adequate education, there are few inequities or impediments that are beyond constitutional challenge. I myself have made arguments leveraging that precedent beyond just money (student assignments, school discipline, and the like). This suit, however, goes a bit further in that it assumes the problem is the teachers rather than a system that is incapable of attracting, retaining, training, or developing effective teachers. Their facts just as easily lend themselves to a claim on behalf of the districts with ineffective teacher against the state, charging that they lack the resources to hire teachers that are already effective or improve the ones who are not yet effective. This lawsuit assumes that these are inherently bad teachers and that there are others waiting in the wing to take their place. I am not sure either assumption is true. With that said, I am generally sympathetic to the notion that schools and the state should be more interventionist in controlling the placement, hiring and retention of teachers. I am just not sure that this lawsuit is the best way to get us there.